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Guest Post: Summer inspectors help boaters prevent the spread of invasive species in Wisconsin’s waters

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room and blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

As another Wisconsin summer hits its stride, it’s a good time for Wisconsin boaters to think about responsible boating practices.  They can enjoy the great outdoors and protect our waters at the same time by taking simple actions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

Clean Boats, Clean Waters is a statewide boater education program that Wisconsin Sea Grant implements in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin-Extension.  With the help of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, Sea Grant educates boaters along the Great Lakes coast.

Trained watercraft inspectors are stationed in four areas of the state, where they teach boaters how to take the preventative steps required by state law to minimize the risk of spreading unwanted “hitchhikers,” such as zebra mussels and quagga mussels, from one body of water to another.

Simple steps taken after boating can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are ready to educate and assist.
Credit: Clean Boats, Clean Waters

Tim Campbell, Sea Grant’s AIS outreach specialist, works closely with Wisconsin DNR on the program.  As he summed up Wisconsin law, “Basically, you’re not allowed to transport aquatic plants, mud or animals on a public roadway. You also can’t transport lake or river water, so you need to drain out the water before leaving the boat landing.”

While more than 90% of boaters say they are familiar with Wisconsin law and “always” or “usually” take steps to clean their watercraft, that still leaves many boating trips each year that present some risk.

Inspectors talk to boaters (and users of other watercraft, like kayaks and paddleboards) about these requirements and, when needed, help them take the necessary actions, such as removing plants from a hard-to-reach part of a trailer or draining excess water from boat compartments.

“Especially at the beginning of the boating season, people can be rusty in their boating habits,” said Campbell.  “And it’s always good for inspectors to be there to talk to the few people who haven’t yet heard the ‘Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!’ message.”

Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are based out of Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee/Port Washington, and the Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee area.  The aim is not to penalize boaters, but to help them comply with the law and protect our waters so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

“Many of the boaters thank me for being out and doing my job, which is pretty cool,” said inspector Matthew Cherney, a UW-Madison student majoring in geological engineering and geoscience.  Cherney, who is from Appleton, covers boat launches in and around Milwaukee.

The inspectors are all college students and work through Labor Day or so.  It’s gratifying work, said Nick Holtmeier, a UW-Whitewater student majoring in biology and Spanish, whose area is northeastern Wisconsin. “My favorite part of performing inspections is getting to talk to the public to inform them about a topic for which I have a passion.”

The program has been quite successful in holding the line on the spread of AIS.  Said Campbell, “Clean Boats, Clean Waters has been going on since 2004, and we know that it works to change boater behaviors.  It’s the best program we have to really make an impact on the spread of invasive species.”

For questions about the program, contact Campbell at tim@aqua.wisc.edu.

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Article by Jennifer A. Smith

Contributor, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read